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Picture of the Month Young Man with a Horn

By NYIP Staff on November 16, 2008

Young man with a horn by NYIP student Gwen Juarez

Portrait skills are an important part of any professional photographer's bag of tricks, regardless of that individual's particular specialty. Perhaps not so much for wildlife or landscapes, though even a shot of a bird can be considered a portrait of sorts. But photographing people, whether in a formal setup or in an informal candid image, requires considerable knowledge and skill to be successful.

My own experience in this area has been mostly with children in their own home. Rather than shoot the standard head-and-shoulders composition typical of passport photos and police mug shots, I preferred a more "environmental" approach that revealed something specific about the person. Sometimes it included a prop that was associated with the child's favorite activity; sometimes it included part of the child's room, though the latter suggestion often elicited a panicky response from the Mom. I always told them not to worry. Being a parent myself, I am well aware what most children's rooms look like (especially under their beds!) and could usually shoot around the chaos.

I have also photographed musicians and this photo, by NYIP Complete Course in Professional Photography Student Gwen Juarez, is similar to that work, though most of the images I did were of performances, not studio set-ups. But is there any doubt that the subject of this photo is a trumpet player? We don't need a caption to tell us that. The trumpet really focuses our attention and tells us something important about the person.

Anything we could remove from the image to simplify it? No, nothing at all. Take away the trumpet and it becomes an altogether different photo. What about the wrist watch and the ring? Are they distracting? I don't think so. In fact, both the watch and the ring appear to be the same color as the trumpet, making all three, "color coordinated" accessories. They almost "go with" the trumpet and reinforce its tonality. Anyway, people do routinely wear watches and rings, including musicians who are performing. I have photographed musicians who were literally festooned with jewelry, decked out with giant gold necklaces and rings on every finger. That was part of their self-image and I never messed with it. The jewelry in this photo is not like that and in fact is quite tasteful. I don't know what the trumpet player's musical skills are but he has a nice fashion sense.

What about the pose? After all, how we position our portrait subjects is extremely important and carelessness or lack of knowledge on the part of the photographer about how the camera "renders" the human anatomy can result in disaster. In this photo I like the placement of the left forearm and hand under the chin, drawing our eye toward the face and those very expressive eyes. However, I do think this particular arrangement, as executed, results in a slightly cramped look to the body. The head thus looks larger than it really is, relative to the rest of the body. I probably would have had him lean a little less forward toward the camera while at the same time retaining the basic arrangement.

I also like the expression on the face and what it conveys. This guy is serious about his "ax". He's almost daring us to disagree. I think it would have been a mistake to pressure him to smile.

Anything else? Well, there is a small white spec in the far corner of the right eye that I find a little annoying. You may not notice it in a small reproduction, especially on the Web. Perhaps it's a stray catch-light or perhaps it's something else but I would have spotted it out. It's easy to do with most photo editing software.

Other than that, the lighting here has produced two nice catch-lights in the pupils of the eyes, adding necessary sparkle to them. And the illuminated background provides good separation between it and the subject, with no distracting shadows back there.

All in all, I think Gwen Juarez did a really great job and the result is a near perfect portrait. Kudos!